COMMENT

MARCH 1999

 

The peep show presidency of William Jefferson Clinton is safe - at least for the present. The Senate of the United States of America failed to convict the impeached leader of the free world for 'high crimes and misdemeanours'. The consequences of the process, and the decision, have major implications for all of us.

That Mr Clinton is a serial adulterer has never really been in question. That his infidelities have been of a peculiar and sordid kind was revealed in forensic detail by the Starr Report. That he is an accomplished liar could only have come as a surprise to the most naive of his fellow citizens.

It has been apparent that such failings are no longer a cue for honourable resignation in Western democracies even if Mr Clinton were an honourable man.

On one level the American people are perfectly entitled to keep in office the man they elected as President, even if the Founding Fathers must be revolving in their graves. After all, they knew what Clinton was like when they elected him.

The sex, in itself, is incidental. He won't be the first adulterer in office or the last. In America sex is a sort of leisure industry anyway, with hardly anyone daring to 'judge' even the most bizarre and destructive behaviour of his neighbour.

Why should we be concerned?

First of all, it became clear from the evidence that Mr Clinton is a sexual predator. So much so that it was his priority in all circumstances. - even conducting international negotiations on the world's trouble spots by telephone whilst in flagrante.

Secondly, it is clear that international decisions of life and death have been taken at moments critical for his own political survival. Even the most convinced hawks on both sides of the Atlantic were shaken by the decision of the world's most famous draft-dodger to bomb Iraq on the eve of impeachment. The Arab press speak contemptuously of the 'War of Clinton's Penis'; and who can convincingly refute them?

Thirdly, it was proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that Mr Clinton had lied on oath and done everything in his considerable power to thwart and undermine the judicial process. When the First Citizen is seen to be immune to the law of the land the fabric of democracy is in ruins.

Fourthly, it became clear that the Senate, in the end, was swayed not by the evidence but by opinion polls. The more horrific Mr Clinton's abuses, the more popular he became. For all the years of liberal bleating about the terrible power of the moral majority, it is now evident that America is content to govern itself by the will of an immoral majority.

If this had happened in a small and politically insignificant country it would be a cause for sorrow. That it should happen in a country which has the highest percentage church attendance in Western Christendom and claims to be the arbiter and policeman of the world is not only shocking but profoundly dangerous.

Internationally, the moral authority of the West has been gravely weakened. Internally, the failure of the democratic process and the traducing of the rule of law may lead some to conclude, tragically, that justice must find another way.

---ooOoo---

Canon Hugh Wilcox, in his Preface to the 1999 Church of England Year Book raises the subject of clergy stipends. He draws attention to 'the unpalatable fact that the stipendiary ministry of the church is being subsidised in practice by working spouses and to a small extent by those who have private means or expectations.'

He goes on to criticise the absence of any system of significant increments or differentials. '...a parish priest with thirty years service and perhaps with considerable responsibility in diocesan affairs will receive this year exactly the same as the youngest new incumbent fresh to the job after a couple of curacies'.

Though the basic stipend can differ by as much as 1400 from diocese to diocese (a fact which, at present levels, is itself a cause for concern), a parish priest in the Church of England is presently paid an average of 15200 pa. Expenses, in addition to that sum, are nowhere lavish and in some places nil.

Most clergy are sensible enough to ignore the comparisons with other professions which are sometimes made to support the case for stipend increases. They know such parity to be beyond the means of their parishioners or of the Church at large.

The clergy are, for the most part, a docile uncomplaining lot. Very few of them are as yet unionised, and the political activists among them seem more concerned with doctrine or sexuality than with finance. Instead, it is Joanna Trollope (whose Rector's Wife, you will remember, scandalised a rural parish by taking a job in the supermarket) who continues the campaign of her more famous ancestor for a more generous and rational pay structure.

All this must be viewed with quiet satisfaction from No. 1 Millbank and its forty-three diocesan subsidiaries. But there are signs that the worm is beginning to turn.

Most dioceses now adopt, in the popular version of their accounts, a method for showing the cost to the church of its parochial clergy which is giving increasing offence to the priests themselves, and gravely misleading their parishioners.

By aggregating the costs of pensions, training for the ministry, parsonage housing, diocesan agencies (in the guise of 'clergy support'), and who knows what else, one diocese has come up with a sum of over 37, 000 per priest per annum.

Out of mere curiosity (and an irrepressible desire to sauce the gander) New Directions approached the Communications Department of the Church Commissioners in the hope of securing a comparable figure for suffragan and diocesan bishops - some idea, that is to say, of the net cost to the Church at large of the prelates themselves, their properly chargeable expenses, and their necessary support services. Sadly, the question seems to have been perceived as hostile.

Rather predictably, the policy of the Commissioners is not to make such information available. It would be difficult to abstract... varies widely from bishop to bishop... and, if given, would only prove to be 'misleading'... etc., etc., etc.

Exactly so. And it might also prove embarrassing - as leaks from the present review of bishops' pay and expenses are beginning to show.

'We are a growing Church', wrote the Archbishops, confidentially, to the bench. And so they are taking steps to ensure a proper 'resourcing' for all the bishops.

Their Graces did not explain what criteria of growth they were employing (some secret of the Statistical Department as yet unrevealed, perhaps?); but it should all prove very interesting.

Watch this space!

Return to Home Page of This Issue

Return to Trushare Opening Page